Blog: How I Cloth Diapered on a Budget

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This article was written by our own Cecily, and originally appeared on her blog, Plane Jane Explains. It is embedded here with her permission.


Some people do it to save the planet, some people do it because it’s cute, and some people do it to save money. Cloth diapering, the fluffiest and most stylish way to do all three!

Personally, I cloth diaper primarily for the budget benefits. (Don’t misunderstand me – I think cloth is cute and want ALL the diapers!) We aren’t what you’d call rich, and pack after pack of disposables gets to be pretty expensive. We currently only have one kiddo in diapers, but we’re about to have two in diapers at once, and it wasn’t so long ago that we went through Round One of having two in diapers at once. Sorry, but I’m not willing to pay that much for something that catches excrement once and then needs to be thrown away. My budget is just too tight for that!

Now, if you’ve already looked into cloth you know that the up-front cost is pretty steep. So, we’ll address that first. How can you save money using cloth if you can’t pay for the cloth to begin with?

*Note: This post is going to assume familiarity with cloth diaper types and terms. If there’s anything you don’t understand, just ask! Or Google it. Google is fun.

1. Cheapest of the Cheap
One thing many folks do is head to their friendly neighborhood Walmart and pick up a pack or two of flour sack towels for something like $4.88. Two packs will get you 10 flour sack towels, which can be used in the same way as flat diapers and will diaper a baby of pretty much any age for at least one day. Of course, you’ll need a cover of some sort, and my suggestion is to go ahead and put your dollars into covers. There are some relatively inexpensive brands, and on the whole you don’t need that many covers, especially if you’re using PUL covers without mesh or cloth inners – they can be wiped clean between diaper changes (instead of needing to be washed after being used once) as long as no poop or pee gets on the elastic casings or the outside of the cover.

If you want to do less creative folding and quicker diapering of baby you can look into grabbing a dozen prefolds. Green Mountain Diapers carries great prefolds, FYI, and sells them by the dozen! Just keep in mind that these are going to cost roughly three times as much as flour sack towels (though a $30 dozen of diapers is still not bad!). Prefolds are sized but this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to buy a new dozen every time baby outgrows the last set. Even though my kiddo has outgrown them, I keep a dozen GMD mediums around and use them trifolded inside of his diapers. I use mostly pocket diapers, so I use the prefolds as doublers, but the idea is the same. You can trifold the prefold and lay it in a cover and it will do the job nicely, even after baby has outgrown that size. I find this works best with size medium prefolds, they seem to fit perfectly into most covers.

2. Movin’ on up!
Personally, I see nothing wrong with investing (when possible) in a smattering of good pocket diapers, AI2s, and AIOs. You don’t necessarily need to buy them new, as fun as it is to get a brand new diaper. There’s nothing wrong with growing your stash with used diapers as long as you strip and sanitize them before putting them on your baby. Buying used is an excellent way to add variety to your stash, in terms of both convenience and effectiveness (we all know that every baby is unique and every diaper is constructed differently and absorbs differently, and you need to find what works). And, I’m not going to lie, as thrifty as it is to diaper using only flats and/or prefolds, it’s not as much fun. So finding a way to combine budget with convenience, fit, and fun is a reasonable goal. This is where buy/sell/trade groups and Craigslist come in. You can find all kinds of pre-loved diapers exponentially cheaper than retail, and if you happen to be crafty you can find diapers with issues like shot elastic or worn out hook & loop for really cheap and then restore them to good usable quality!

Don’t feel bad about wanting the occasional new diaper, though. Getting something new is really gratifying, we can be honest here. That’s where co-ops come in. I’ve personally never used a co-op but I know people who participate all the time! Many diaper companies will place a discount on diapers sold in bulk, and co-ops are designed to make the purchase of a bulk lot possible by having many people contribute to the cost. Then everyone gets their cut of the order, and it ends up being cheaper per diaper. The downside is that co-op orders can take a long time to arrive, but patience is a virtue, right?

Another thing to do is to simply shop clearance on cloth diaper websites, take advantage of deals and discount codes, compare prices between websites (including shipping!) and space out purchases so that big lump sums aren’t hitting your wallet.

3. Share the Love
When the savings become really obvious is when you have more than one child using the same stash of diapers. In my case, many of my diapers will have been worn by three children! Three children, and no need to buy a whole new stash for each! That’s not to say I’ve never had elastic break, or lost a diaper. Heck, I’ve had someone – who is still a mystery – somehow vanish an entire pail liner full of dirties, presumably because they didn’t agree with me cloth diapering (In the beginning I had no support at all in the endeavor, and lots of opposition!). So I have had to rebuild my stash after a few hits, but never from the bottom up! And even with needing to replace diapers, the savings inherent in not buying boxes of disposable diapers for THREE children are still phenomenal! Most people will not lose an entire pail liner’s worth of diapers at once, so it’s safe to say that most folks won’t need to rebuild like I did! Even better!
4. Touchy Subject
I’m a firm believer that cloth diapers are just like any other oft-worn cloth in that they launder the same way. So another way I save money is by not buying into “cloth diaper safe” detergents, which cost a lot for only a little and have weak cleaning power at best. That’s no bargain as far as I’m concerned. I’m also not the least bit concerned with warranties, which calculate out to less than $2/month for one year anyway in most cases, and usually carry an insane number of stipulations in order for the company to honor them at all. People get pretty amped about this, but the science and the experience speak for themselves – cloth diapers do just fine – in fact, they do AMAZINGLY – in regular amounts of regular detergent. So I use the same detergent on my diapers as I do on my family’s clothing. In fact, I often put clothing in with my diapers after the diapers have been through their pre-rinse. Not buying separate detergents and combining loads is a no-brainer when it comes to saving money! Not to mention it makes laundry a lot simpler. As an added bonus, washing diapers as I do (regular amount of regular detergent, and only doing a pre-rinse and a regular wash – no extra rinses) means I’m saving water as well! Rinse, rinse, rinse is a thing of the past.
Sure, you can find plenty of people who will argue that cloth diapers aren’t really saving money at all (or the environment, or that they’re not even cute), but I’ve got the experience. I can tell you right now that for me, cloth has been an incredible help to us financially! And it can for you too.